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The old school tie and social capital: Claymore vs MLC

Whatever response we might have had to the MLC story – and there have been many – it has been an insight into one of Australia’s “old school tie" networks. The drama around the sacking of the elite Melbourne…

For Claymore children featured in ABC TV’s Four Corners program Growing Up Poor, it is lack of access to social capital - such as that enjoyed by wealthier families - which may trap them in poverty. Image sourced from ABC TV Four Corners

Whatever response we might have had to the MLC story – and there have been many – it has been an insight into one of Australia’s “old school tie" networks.

The drama around the sacking of the elite Melbourne girls school’s former principal, Rosa Storelli, reveals a web of public identities as past and present board members, as well as various wealthy benefactors.

We would hope all Australian schools are similarly endowed with successful and well-connected people concerned with the governance and promotion of their schools.

But it looks unlikely for the schools attended by the children of Claymore who participated in the recent Four Corners program, and others like them in disadvantaged communities around Australia.

Schools serving disadvantaged communities can be exemplary, and have excellent outcomes. Some of these were the subject of another Four Corners documentary earlier in the year. Even so, as the Gonski report documents, better educational outcomes are attained in private schools and this is linked to their higher levels of funding and resources.

While the focus has rightly been on schools funding, the role of that elusive substance called “social capital” may be obscured as a factor in the better educational outcomes in private schools such as MLC. It is a substance which its board and benefactors seem exceptionally well-placed to cultivate.

There are various ways of defining social capital. An ABS discussion paper says:

“Though there is no universal definition of social capital, there appears to be general agreement on the importance of networks, trust, reciprocity and other social norms to social capital.”

It encompasses interpersonal, community, and family networks which facilitate access to a wide range of resources including information, knowledge, skills and jobs. It relates to power and efficacy in attaining personal and community goals and, as such, shapes structures of power and inequality within a society.

In Bowling Alone, author Robert Putnam differentiates between two forms of social capital.

He says “bonding social capital” is fundamentally inward looking and serves to strengthen the interests and identity of particular groups. Reciprocity and trust are important dimensions of “bonding social capital.” They foster a sense of security and belonging within communities.

“Bridging social capital” in contrast is an outwardly- oriented asset forging links to external networks and communities. This is essential for expanding domains of influence and access to a wider range of networks and resources.

A school community like MLC is able to nurture both bonding and bridging forms of social capital very well. Access to both helps to maximise opportunities and, also to minimise social risks within communities.

Social capital and intergenerational social risks

A social risk is essentially a risk of poverty, deprivation and social exclusion.

Sociologist and economist Gosta Esping-Andersen identifies three types of social risk.

The first is what he calls “class-related” risk such as long term unemployment, or reliance on a very low income with few or no pathways for improvement. Then there is “life course” risk - such as among young families with high needs and low incomes, or in old age when earnings decline.

The third is “intergenerational risk”, overlapping with class risks but relating more to inherited opportunity and life chances. This means that children from disadvantaged families are more likely to be disadvantaged themselves.

It is in this last area that Esping-Andersen notes the role of access to “social capital” in maximising opportunity and minimising risk. It is very often inherited and translates into economic advantages especially through employment opportunities.

The children of Claymore, and similar communities in Australia and other parts of the world (such as those featured in this UK documentary Poor Kids, shown on ABC last year) are particularly exposed to intergenerational risk as a result of poor access to social capital. In contrast, the children attending MLC would appear to be very well sheltered.

The question is whether being raised in Claymore should be a one-way ticket to poverty, deprivation and social exclusion. Of course, it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be - but that will depend not only on a good education, but also access to social capital.

Social capital, public funding and social infrastructure

The Gonski review dragged into the open the disturbing trends in educational disparities between private schools and schools serving disadvantaged communities. The effectiveness of the Government’s response remains to be seen over coming years.

However, the creation of social capital must surely be part of the agenda for ensuring all Australian children have opportunities to do well - and to support the Gonski reforms. It will flourish where communities are well-resourced, where there is access to decent housing, decent jobs and a wide range of community facilities - or social infrastructure.

One important example relates to housing. The public housing stock at Claymore is now seriously degraded, consistent with trends around Australia as governments have progressively reduced investment in public housing according to Lucy Groenhart.

Whatever improvements are made in the education sector, the benefits for the children of Claymore – and similar communities - will be compromised if they continue to live in such blighted conditions. It is not only a question of a poor quality physical environment but the effects this has on reducing social capital formation within communities which have been disempowered and abandoned.

Children’s capacity to do well is also inextricably linked to how well their parents are doing. If we want better opportunity and outcomes for disadvantaged children we need to look to the opportunities of their parents for community integration and employment. Community facilities such as neighbourhood houses and community centres are vital to this, as are the conduits through adult education and training that lead to decent paid employment.

In this regard we should be greatly concerned about state government budget cuts in social programs and education. Debt burdens for future generations may be used as a rationale for spending cuts. But equally the impact on future generations of reducing the programs which support social capital formation must be considered. Looking to how public funds can be more equitably, efficiently and effectively used, as in the case of education, is a better path.

Join the conversation

22 Comments sorted by

    1. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Interesting Dale - all data should be out there.

      It doesn't necessarily mean cause and effect, of course.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to James Jenkin

      James Jenkin
      I cannot understand how a teacher has not heard about the correlation between single parent families and child poverty.

      And it doesn’t matter much if the mother gets a job, as so much of her wage goes to child care.

      And reducing the number of single parent families has little to do with education spending, as found in the UK, where vast sums of money were spent on schools, to have a marginal effect on reducing the number of single parent families and child poverty. Single parenting…

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    3. emily vicendese

      undergrad

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale, every single article I have read today has had a comment from you. And they've all been anti-feminist.

      Your obsessive single-mindedness is rather disturbing.

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    4. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      SO Dale you suggest that doing nothing is a better idea? Or perhaps we should make sure that public school in poor areas are palaces of learning that deliver the best outcomes, permit the children to move onto vocational or tertiary education and break the poverty cycle?

      Blaming the situation the children are in is utterly pointless.

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    5. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Theproblem, Mr/Ms anonymous commentator (I thought The Conversation required one to use real names?) is that the schools do not step up to the plate and enforce the children's right to an education.

      I have tried to get my children's school to enforce attendance through the mechanisms available, since my children's mother has allowed them to miss up to 50% of the days they are in her care. The school is simply not interested, telling me I should approach the Family Court! The Education Department…

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to emily vicendese

      Emily Vicendese
      Registered marriage: Claymore 24% Australia 49.2%
      One Parent Family: Claymore 57.2 Australia 15.9%

      There are two glaringly obvious problems at Claymore that have little to do with education funding. One is the high rate of single parents, and the other the low rate of marriage.

      It is totally unlikely that the public education system will solve those problems, as it is so feminist, no teacher in will ever likely encourage students to get married and stay married.

      Spending more money in Claymore on education will be a total waste of money, until they increase the number of marriages and reduce the number of single parent families.

      The same was found in the UK

      "If you take almost any measure - how well children do in school, whether they turn to crime, whether they commit suicide, etc - it's better to have two parents.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6542031.stm

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    7. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      “More children are born in Britain today outside of marriage than in most other European countries, the report also said.

      The average figure is 44%, compared with just 3% in Cyprus, and just 12% in Britain in the early 1970s.

      BBC home editor Mark Easton said that in Wales and the north east of England the numbers of children born to unmarried parents were even higher, at 52% and 55% respectively.

      More than seven million people in Britain also live alone now, compared with three million in 1971.

      This, the report said, had left societies more fragmented and led to much less trust and co-operation between neighbours. “

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6542031.stm

      So much for social capital, and the feminist ideal, and welcome to the future for Australia.

      Claymore is just a snapshot.

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    8. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Craig - Is that your name? because you know with a gmail account you could be anyone at all...

      Here is the Community Standard for The Conversation comments:

      "We require real names. Contributors who want to comment must use their real names when signing up for an account on The Conversation (unless signing in using third-party services, such as Facebook or Twitter). Organisation representatives creating accounts also must use their own names. Requiring real names helps us maintain a transparent and credible forum for discussion and debate. We reserve the right to delete comments made from profiles with partial names or aliases."

      Please note the exception made for Twitter comments. My Twitter profile and history should give you a far better idea of who I am than I would get if I just googled "Craig Minns".

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    9. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Yes, it is my real name. I have no interest in twits or twitterers or whatever they're called. Nor have I any interest in inferring anything about you. I think it's rude to post anonymously when all about you are not. A bit like remaining dressed at a nudist beach. That's usually a sign of insecurity, I'm told.

      I note you didn't respond to my comments.

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    10. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      Grendelus, I think that no one is blaming the children. The point is that schools by themselves are not the solution - they can't be, though of course they can offer real chances and opportunities to some kids. Schools need to be seen as part of a holistic approach, not as the only solution - that's just impractical.

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    11. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Dania - I agree that the school alone are not the solution, but they are a critical part of it and I would strongly support any policy that improves the quality of public education. In many cases, particularly in the poorest areas, the problems faced by children are so great that the school experience is potentially the only opportunity the children will have. In those circumstances we should be resolute in ensuring that the school becomes a focal point for providing the best possible opportunity. It is often also the only chance we get to assess other aspects of the child's life - but balancing the responsibilities of more than education is often more than a school should have to do.

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    12. Grendelus Malleolus

      Senior Nerd

      In reply to Craig Minns

      Craig - I did not reply to your comments because they seemed largely to be around your own (subjective) experience and the difficulties you have faced. That bear's little resemblence to my own experiences and I won't demean your own problems by trying to give some kind of faux advice that would be ultimately pointless.

      As for names - I don't think you quite got my point. There is no way of verifying that anyone posting here with a gmail, hotmail or yahoo account is actually using their real name - the policy of real names is nice, but online the name comments are posted under becomes the name those views are associated with. Over time the reputation of the 'name' whether that be a real sounding one such as 'Bill Blogs' or an obvious pseudonym such as "Hagrid" becomes tied to the comments made under that name. That is, I can tell you my real name, but it won't mean anything to you since all my online communications ever have been made under the name Grendel.

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    13. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to Grendelus Malleolus

      They are not my subjective experience about my troubles, they are an account of the problems my children have faced in simply being given an education in a school that is not "poor", but middle-class. They are a true account, with no embellishment. It seems to me that if this is the parlous state of play in such a school, then there is absolutely no chance of schools with higher levels of disadvantage doing better. The problem is not funding, but lousy teacher training, disinterested departmental…

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  1. Kitty Te Riele

    CRN Principal Research Fellow at Victoria University

    Hi Veronica, thanks for publicly continuing the conversations that were sparked by the Four Corners program. I think many of us were touched by the smart and lovely Claymore kids. Morally, they deserve every bit as good a chance to have a happy and successful life as kids fortunate enough to be born in wealthier families. Economically, Australia needs their productive contribution. Your final paragraph is spot on - funding cuts to education and social programs are so short-sighted.

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  2. Dania Ng

    Retired factory worker

    Thanks for this article, Veronica. Social capital is certainly an important resource for individuals living in a particular community. However, it is community-based capital, not individual and refers to outcomes resulting from civil engagement (trust, networks, tolerance), as Robert Putnam extrapolated from his study of regional communities in Italy - it is all about civic engagement and, funnily enough, the communities he studied were quite poor, perhaps not much better off than the community…

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    1. emily vicendese

      undergrad

      In reply to Dania Ng

      Somehow, I think single mother Katie Holmes' daughter Suri will NOT face the problems alluded to here. You simply cannot underestimate wealth in the equation.

      It is not single parenthood per se that is the problem, it is the correlation between single parenthood and poverty. Poverty is the problem, not single parenthood.

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    2. Dania Ng

      Retired factory worker

      In reply to emily vicendese

      Yes, of course poverty is a significant factor. But poverty and living in a dysfunctional community is not the same as poverty and living in a community characterised by strong civic ties. To rely solely or mainly on poverty as a predictor is quite dangerous, the neo-Marxist analyses (such as Esping-Andersen's) are still quite narrowly determinist and embedded in class analysis. I agree that single parent families are not the problem in themselves, and it would be inappropriate and wrong to claim…

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    3. Craig Minns

      Self-employed

      In reply to emily vicendese

      A single parent cannot hope to bring the same resources of time and money to bear that an intact family can.

      Our society does not have extensive family networks in the same way that some others do. What it has instead is a system of handouts aimed at the majority parent and punitive measures aimed at the estranged parent. The state is the "family", but the agents of the state have no interest in the individual outcomes of those whose lives they rule, while the parents are forced into conflict…

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  3. Dianne Kelly

    University lecturer

    My daughter (now 24) has a degenerative hearing loss and was not deemed sufficiently 'disabled' to qualify for assistance during the Kennett era. On advice from an expert, she went to MLC from Grades 3-6 because they have a deaf integration support unit. Our income barely stretched to cover private school fees, so we 'lived on baked beans' during those years. The positive social capital aspect is definitely there and you get more than just an education. Having come from a disadvantaged background…

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  4. Michael Wearing

    logged in via Facebook

    Thanks Veronica for the article,
    I think keeping up the comparisons on 'who benefits,when and where' from different private and public education systems at all three levels and across these levels--primary, secondary and tertiary-- is incredibly valuable in the public debate in Australia or what's left of it. The Four Corners program did a good job again in showing the effects of social inequality and the growing national and, to a certain extent, global divide. Every few years 4 corners has an…

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